Saskatchewan

Colten Boushie's mom says healing won't happen without RCMP apology for racial discrimination

It's been five years since Gerald Stanley shot and killed 22-year-old Colten Boushie. Debbie Baptiste, Boushie's mom, said she can't heal until the RCMP apologize for how they discriminated against her on the night of his death.

Today marks 5 years since Gerald Stanley killed Colten Boushie

Colten Boushie's mother Debbie Baptiste holds a photo of her son outside of court in Battleford, Sask. The family has said that the injustices in the handling of Boushie's death go far back and include the way the RCMP interacted with the family in the wake of his death. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Debbie Baptiste choked back tears as she remembered her son Colten Boushie's smile.

She said she misses everything about him, but especially that grin. 

"When he saw you not having a good day, he'd go over there and cheer you up, make you smile. He didn't care what race you were. He just wanted people to feel good," she said. "He was just a good kid that deserved to live."

Boushie was slain five years ago. 

A white farmer named Gerald Stanley shot and killed the 22-year-old, after Boushie and his friends from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan drove onto Stanley's property near Biggar, Sask., on Aug. 9 2016. A jury acquitted Stanley, 56, of murder in Boushie's death.

The killing and subsequent trial drew national attention to racism and discrimination within Saskatchewan and the justice system.

Baptiste said the layers of discrimination from police and the public that she has faced in the wake of Boushie's death have made it harder to heal.

She has to live knowing that her son was violently killed and the man responsible walked free. 

These circumstances are out of her control, but Baptiste said there are some actions that could be taken to help with her healing — starting with the RCMP. 

She wants a formal apology for how police officers treated her and her late son. 

"All the anger still will not leave me because the discrimination that happened to us, the racism," she said. "That anger just stays and I can't heal. I need to hear this apology. It's important to me. It's important to my family. It is important to the next generation." 

Boushie's family has always maintained that the RCMP discriminated against Baptiste when they notified her about Boushie's death. 

Debbie Baptiste holds up a photo of her son Colten Boushie as the family speaks in the Foyer of the House of Commons in the aftermath of the Gerald Stanley case. (The Canadian Press)

Earlier this year, an independent report from an RCMP oversight commission substantiated this, as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) determined that the RCMP racially discriminated against Baptiste that night. 

The CRCC report found evidence of discrimination during this next-of-kin notification process in how police acted with respect to her sobriety and her credibility." The family says one officer told the grieving Baptiste to "get it together" and asked if she had been drinking. A police officer smelled her breath.

LISTEN| Five years after the killing of Colten Boushie, his mother is still waiting for an apology:

Monday marks five years since the killing of Colten Boushie. Guest host Laura Lynch talks to his mother Debbie Baptiste about what her family has been through; and the family’s lawyer Eleanore Sunchild, about a renewed push for a national inquiry into RCMP actions during the case. 19:46

Baptiste said the police need to accept accountability with an apology. 

"They treated me [as] less than a human being and I refuse for them [to] treat the next generation the same way," she said. "This change needs to come and it needs to stop with their discrimination toward Indigenous people." 

What the RCMP has said

Boushie's family initially complained about the officers' conduct to the Saskatchewan RCMP, which launched its own investigation. 

A superintendent said the force could only partially support one of the family's five claims, but added, "I can acknowledge how the officer's approach could have been perceived as insensitive and for this the RCMP apologizes."

After the independent CRCC report came out, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki accepted the findings of racial discrimination and the insensitive process of notifying Debbie Baptiste of her son's death.

However, the police force did not apologize for the racial discrimination. 

In emailed statement on Monday, the Saskatchewan RCMP it would welcome the opportunity to meet with the family if and when they're ready.

"We reached out to the family informally in January, however, we respect that any meeting with the family will have to be on their terms," the statement said. "The RCMP will not share details of any conversations with the family."

Baptiste said an apology from the RCMP would make her feel human again. 

The CRCC also examined the initial media releases the Saskatchewan RCMP issued about Boushie's death. It found police focused disproportionately on property crime linked to Boushie's friends, instead of focusing on the death investigation. This fuelled online violence directed at the family. 

The amount of people posting hateful, racist comments online about Boushie, his friends and Indigenous people prompted Premier Brad Wall to tell people to "rise above intolerance." The leader of the provincial Opposition called the hateful comments beyond sickening. 

In her response to the CRCC report, Lucki said that although each media release was accurate, "the combined effect of splitting the media releases and the piecemeal release of information was [cause for] a reasonable member of the public to infer information about Colten Boushie that was inaccurate. This approach caused anguish for Colten Boushie's family."

Lucki did not apologize for the media releases, but she has previously said racial discrimination exists within the RCMP. 

When the Saskatchewan RCMP investigated the family's complaint, the superintendent wrote back to the family saying the RCMP did not support the allegation about the media releases, but apologized "if you felt the media releases depicted your son as a thief and caused your family further anguish. That was never the intent."

Mother seeks follow-up from Trudeau's office

Baptiste said her son also deserves an apology for being branded a thief when the police notified the public about the killing. 

"We just have to continue fighting until we're heard and that's what I'm demanding for, is an apology from the RCMP, an apology to my son." 

Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colten Boushie, held a picture of her son as she left the Court of Queen's Bench during a lunch recess on the fifth day of the trial of Gerald Stanley. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

Baptiste said it's not just the RCMP she needs to hear from. 

She also wants to know why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't follow up with her family. In 2018, Baptiste and other members of Boushie's family went to Ottawa for a series of meetings with officials, including with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

The family left the meetings hopeful that change was going to come to address  systemic problems with Canada's justice system. 

Now Baptiste is left wondering why there's been no direct follow up. 

"I'd like Trudeau to keep his word and do that follow up. I would like for the RCMP — that apology, then we could move forward, but for now we have no trust in them."

Baptiste wishes her son was still alive, but said now all she wants is justice for him. 

She's marking the anniversary of his death with a heavy heart. 

"The hurt's still there. It doesn't go away." 

with files from Omayra Issa, Guy Quenneville

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